IPA Review. Article Volume 4811, 1995. – Rock Around The Taxpayers’ Clock – by R.J. STOVE

Learn a bit of Australian Music History.
(Via the Institute of Public Affairs) 
CAN THE ABC’S JJJ FM RADIO NETWORK AND AUSTRALIA’S OTHER FORMALIZED MUSIC
INDUSTRY LOBBIES JUSTIFY TAKING OUR MONEY ?
IPA Review Vol. 4811, 1995
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triplejposters,0

 
Rock Around The Taxpayers’ Clock

by R.J. Stove.

Even as we sit here there undoubtedly exists, mouldering in the innards of some Dawkins created borstal, a PhD candidate hard at work on the doctoral thesis Rock Music Imagery As A Factor In Mid-1990s State And Federal Politics. Such a candidate will lack nothing in raw material. On the Monday morning after NSW’s recent election Warren, the Daily Telegraph Mirror cartoonist, emphasised the tally’s Rolling Stones connotations: he depicted both John Fahey and Bob Carr on stage as part of The Polling Drones, unanimously snarling “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” (though perhaps for Mr Fahey, given his ecstatic on-camera levitation at the 1993 Olympics announcement, Jumpin’ Jack Flash would have been a more appropriate ditty).
Across the Murray River, Jeff Kennett and Whatsisname Brumby — according to The Age on 23 March — vied with each other in piquant allusions to Mick Jagger’s Golden Treasury of English Verse. Mr Brumby, who failed to score an invitation to Mr Kennett’s private party for the Stones, complained that “You can’t always get what you want, but I think the Premier always gets what he wants.” For his part, Mr Kennett (clearly displaying the most morbid sensitivity to charges of excessive good taste) revealed that his all-rime Stones favourite was Satisfaction “because I can’t get any from the Opposition at the moment.
I try to do my best to keep the Parliament humming along, I often use the word ‘humping’ along.” Insisting — with as close an approximation to a straight face as his physiognomy will allow that the welcoming bash for Tyre-Tread Lips et al “would further Victoria’s trade relationship with the United Kingdom,” Mr Kennett managed to describe himself as “a rock and roll type of Premier who can move with the times.” Whether he considered this a matter for bragging or an admission of culpability remains uncertain.
Were Mr Kennett’s behaviour an isolated phenomenon it would not deserve the printer’s ink that has here been expended on it. But similar, and in several respects worse, demonstrations of intellectual slumming have been afforded us by the improbable figure of Tim Fischer. In a gesture which made one suspect (well, you know what those drought-stricken rural NSW summers are like) that failure to wear his trusty hat outdoors had afflicted him with sunstroke, Mr Fischer welcomed the launching on Australia Dayof 18 rural transmitters, which for the first time gave a nationwide basis to the ABC’s JJJ — formerly JJ — radio network.
Is the National Party so enslaved to vote-catching that JJJ, which could be relied upon to make any sincere National want to vomit after only 10 minutes’ exposure to it, now seems worth while ? Where is the electoral benefit to Mr Fischer in welcoming a wider audience for a station which, on the first day that Australia as a whole could tune into it, saw fit to broadcast the words “I want to f**k you like an animal”?
These are perfectly legitimate questions, one would have thought, to aim at defenders of a station that gobbles up $3.1 million in direct annual grants from the ABC (not to mention approximately $2 million that it spends per annum on using general ABC services, such as news reporting).
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AMATEURISM
The single most obvious characteristic of JJJ’s out-put, even when the obscenities are not flying thick and fast in all directions, is the — how shall we put it? — endearing technical amateurism so often present in its announcements. Years ago Timothy Garton-Ash, interviewing
Midwest agrarians for a Spectator article on American political attitudes, was roundly told by a farmer’s wife that “We’re hicks and we’re proud to be hick!”
The woman’s husband immediately stepped in: “What my good lady means is that we have a, uh, different kind of sophistication.” Similarly, there seems to be a widespread JJJ belief that the omission of all ums, ahs and stumbles from resident talking heads’ discourse would fatally compromise the “different kind of sophistication” which JJJ offers. Gaping holes of silence repeatedly occur between the end of a track and the back-announcement thereof. If you have adenoids, prepare to flaunt them now: this appears to be about the nearest that JJJ comes to providing speech instruction for on-air personnel. No attempt is made to discourage female disc-jockeys from the loathsome Australian habit of ending phrases with an upward glide: though it is odd to hear women who are obviously keen to brandish their feminist credentials manifesting a vocal tic which, more than any other, proclaims its sufferer’s irredeemable bimbo status. Nor is the effect any more pleasing when JJJ’s male disc-jockeys go in for it.
Besides, there is not merely the style of talking heads’ patter that has to be examined; there is, more crucially, the question of what these talking heads talk, in their occasionally amusing but predominantly inchoate way, about. A caveat is necessary at this stage. Large claims have been made for the purely musical splendours afforded to a waiting world by JJJ and JJJ alone.
The fact that these claims almost invariably come from JJJ itself is not automatically a reason to discount them. Writers like the present one –
whose musical taste buds were long ago annihilated by over-exposure to such poisons as Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Franck, Elgar and Puccini, to name but eight — will obviously find it uphill work to appreciate the deep spiritual awareness of JJJ-promoted Artistes like Deborah Conway, Offspring, and the Glowing Globals. So it is advisable, in a survey as brief as this, to concentrate upon non-musical factors: even if this emphasis involves devoting excessive attention to such feasts of authentic JJJ lyricism as…
Turn my head around (around, around, around)
Turn my head around (around. life onJJJ.”
Turn my head around (around, around, around)
Turn my head around (around, around, around)
Turn my head around (ooh, ooh. ooh)
Turn nay head around (ooh, ooh. ooh)
Turn nay head around (ooh, ooh. ooh)
Turn my head around (ooh. ooh, ooh)
and the tender ballad
When I Was A
Sperm I HadA Lot To Learn.
This latter triumph shows the poetic genius of a latter-day William MacGonagal: a•MacGonagal who, unlike the 19-century one, has been able to enrich his muse by prolonged exposure to … well, prolonged exposure to JJJ, actually. Among his masterpiece’s deathless couplers must be included the lines “Down the road I’ll wear my Adidas [pronounced, curiously, with the accent on the second syllable) I But for now, call me foetus.”
It was not to be expected that JJJ (or “The Jays”, to use the affectionate nickname chat staff employ in their promotions) would treat Easterride
with any greater consideration, let alone reverence, than any other season of the year. And sure enough, the station’s slogan for the Easter break was “The Resurrection Weekend: bringing the dead to life on JJJ.”
Imagine the howls of wrath that would issue from ABC apparatchiks if anyone showed this flippancy towards Aboriginal creeds. Yet JJJ’s policy of concentrating, over Easter, on deceased musicians— some of whom, like
Jim Morrison, have had daisies growing through their skulls for a quarter of a century — produced the unexpected benefit of keeping living musicians’ detritus to a minimum, even if it did entail talk-back radio segments of scarcely credible dementia.

One such segment consisted of a spiritual autobiography from an unbalanced sounding female caller to whom Jim Morrison constituted the only reason for existence. Frenzied with joy at having become bosom friends with a fellow Morrison addict, the unfortunate lass finished

her spiel by saying “Thanks, Jim, for finding me my cosmic mare.”
Another listener, calling herself Debbie, made what JJJ’s Catriona Rowntree described as “one of the most decadent calls we’ve ever received”: it turned out that she was ringing from her bathtub. Perhaps a Celine or a Nathaniel West could do justice to the mentality which inspires people to make phone calls like this. Lesser scribes, sooner than attempt so hopeless a task, will throw the towel in. (Debbie’s request was for the old Hot Chocolate 1970s minor hit You Sexy Thing, which has now been revived for Dumb and Dumber’s sound-track. Given the explicit nature of You Sexy Thing’s lyrics, it was disconcerting to hear Debbie dedicate the request to her father. One was reminded of the great scene in
Ferris Beuller’s Day Off where the school principal, spying on Ferris and his girlfriend canoodling after Ferris has attempted to pass her off as a member of his family, mutters “I see. It’s that sort of family.”)
Once Easter had finished, the normal bill of JJJ fare soon resumed, with such highlights as “Find my arsehole, brother” (this line from a “song” by an outfit called Bushes, with the suitably nudge-nudge-wink-wink title Every-thing’s In);
“I will come in 60 seconds, the request to her father. When we F**k we hear beats” (this from Overcome — terribly witty name, what? — by a certain Tricky); and the following piercing insight into the human condition, or such elements of the human condition as can be found in Balmain: She only comes when she’s on top Dressed me up in women’s clothes, Messed about in gender roles.
This wondrous poesy, by someone called James, bears the name Laid. Note that all three of these instances occurred within half an hour’s listening. It says a lot about the general intellectual level that by comparison, a minimalist diatribe like Third Eye’s single Gala — pretty much your standard heavy-breathing invocation to goddess worship and Things That Go Om In The Night — could seem almost attractive. JJJ justifies its carry-on by referring to its role as a standard-bearer for local groups, providing help to acts that would otherwise waste their sweetness on the desert air: or that would be condemned to night after night of committing purgatorial assaults upon boozers’ eardrums inner-city pubs.
What with JJJ programming’s sheer repetitiveness (the same material is apt to turn up at whatever times of the day or night one listens), this assertion is increasingly hard to substantiate. One might as well be back with the nostalgia-dominated commercial stations, which at least do not give themselves airs about the extent and wisdom of their patronage: except that even the most nauseating commercial stations are, on the

whole, reluctant to bandy the F-word around in prime time. Were JJJ’s bosses to start putting their own — as distinct from public — money where their mouths are, they would earn a modicum of reluctant respect.
But the money-mouth nexus is a concept so alien to the modern Australian mind in general, and to the modern socialist Australian mind in particular, as to be literally unthinkable: not repellent necessarily, just unthinkable. After all, we happen to be witnessing a more than usually determined drive for Federal funding by the local music industry, a drive which in late April (surprise surprise) took the form of a Canberra conference.

GOVERNMENT AS SAVIOUR
Midnight Oil’s Peter Garrett, a long-established master of observations that combine conventional silly-clever rhetoric with his own fleeting
fax-naïveté, recently announced — to the regret of almost no-one who continues to possess operative auditory canals — that the Oils were going on an open-ended sabbatical. He was reported in The Daily Telegraph Mirror (27 April) as saying: “the gut question facing today’s music summit is whether we will have a real Australian music industry at all that young bands can aspire to be a part of, where expensive producers.
we have Australian recording studios, Australian film clip makers, Australian roadies, Australian equipment, all churning out [his words] music that’s distinctive and has value. You don’t have that unless governments are prepared to do everything within their power to assist.
“Not to be outdone, Michael Gudinski, of the appropriately named Mushroom Records, treated The Australian (28  April) to his somewhat shaky syntax: “Believe me, the Government is going to have to step in and (we’ll) have to see some radical changes because, unfortunately, the radio industry has … become so Americanised, it’s become so big money that you can’t expect commercial radio to do it all for you.” And you thought that estimate on this unblushing scale was confined to North Korea!
In a heartening confirmation of Philip Larikin’s epigram “Nothing is funnier than an upstaged revolutionary,” various summit spokesmen were
annoyed above all with JJJ for what they regarded as its inadequate zeal in broadcasting local content. These spokesmen proffered the idea that JJJ should be destroyed to make room for an alternative Australia-wide station: which in the fullness of time would, no doubt, be itself weighed in the local-content balance, be found wanting, and inspire calls for its destruction in favour of yet another Australia-wide station. So the wheel would turn once more.
What makes all this especially ludicrous is that — as David Brearley made clear in The Weekend Australian on 17-18 September last year — the explosion of home-studio recording hi-tech should have had exactly the same effect on Big Business and Big Government which home-office desktop-publishing technology should have had in the literary world: “Young players are more empowered today than ever before. Never has it been so easy or so inexpensive to access [sic] quality recording equipment without the stifling interference of music industry functionaries … “As the new kid on the arts block, Michael Lee could not be expected to know all this. But he and his [then] NSW counterpart Peter Collins, who has generously provided $20,000 for this weekend’s Rock Initiatives gabfest, should rake a few home truths on board before throwing too much of our money at the music industry dinosaur … the industry is an antiquated system of largely superseded studios, costly must-use session musicians and inappropriate but expensive producers.”
The similarity between “the music industry dinosaur” and gigantic Australian book-publishers, with their notorious make-work schemes for ensuring the State subsidised issue of illiterates’ drivel, is all too evident in passages like that last sentence. It is not merely a matter of lacking courage to weed our the inefficient; it is a matter of handing the inefficient large rewards. (Significantly, JJJ’s greatest popular success has been non-musical: the unpretentious low-tech duologues by Roy Slaven and H.G. Nelson chat make up This Sporting Life, on Saturday afternoons. Equally significantly, Slaven and Nelson have survived their periodic transfers to commercial television without their native wit being impaired.)
More than ever, one wonders whether so-called free-market ideology has ever achieved or will ever achieve any of its stated aims. Australia is clearly not going to see any serious defiance of the music industry from any present or future Keating government; it must also discount the chances of defiance from the inhabitants of what Michael Barnard justly called “Her Majesty’s Permanent Opposition.”
Meanwhile — as with the Titanic, though at least that vessel was privately funded – the bands play on.
Dallas Frasca by Nicola Lautré
.Dallas Frasca Painted by Nicola Lautr'e

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IPA Review Vol. 48/1, 1995

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